Corruption is embedded in Croatian society at school, where children who cheat in tests are celebrated as “heroes,” Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic has said.
Grabar-Kitarovic, who is leaving her position next month following an election loss, said corrupt practices could be found throughout Croatian society, but began in the classroom.
Those who did well were routinely described as “eager beavers,” the president told reporters at a news conference in Zagreb, while “those who have prepared so as to cheat on the test are heroes.”
“This is where corruption starts, on the children,” Grabar-Kitarovic said. “They look for ways how to get around the system — and it is not contained to politics. It is much better than it used to be. But it is not just politics.”
Last month former Croatian prime minister Ivo Sanader, within whose government Grabar-Kitarovic was a minister, was sentenced to six years in jail, after being found guilty of taking a 10 million euro (US$11.12 million at the current exchange rate) bribe in exchange for giving a Croat oil firm a large stake in a newly privatized energy company.
Grabar-Kitarovic, a fellow of Sanader’s center-right Croat Democratic Union party, said she had been cut out of major government decisions during her time in his administration and as a result had no idea of his personal corruption.
However, she said that even the daily customs of her country encouraged a culture of kickbacks.
“Most often we are not even aware of what corruption is. When you go to see a doctor everybody expects you to bring at least flowers, chocolates and things like that — it is customary,” she said.
“My mother was in hospital recently and my friends were asking me, why didn’t you bring anything because the nurses expect that. I said, ‘I am not going to participate in this kind of corruption.’ I will bring a basket for Christmas, a little Christmas gift, but that is it,” she said.
“For me the bright light is the young people who have left Croatia and going abroad to different countries that they will come back and bring different ethics and ways of working life with them. And that way we will profit,” she added.
The most recent Eurobarometer survey found that a majority of Croatians feel affected by corruption in their daily lives (59 percent). The country has the largest proportion out of all EU member states of respondents (16 percent) reporting to have been personally exposed to corruption.
Grabar-Kitarovic lost the presidential election to the center-left candidate Zoran Milanovic at the beginning of this month.
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